Phil Brandt, Board Secretary of Powering Potential Inc. (PPI), just returned from Tanzania, where he visited four Karatu District schools that recently received SPARC+ computer labs (Solar Power Access to Raspberry Computing.) These schools are part of a 23-school group slated to receive SPARC+ over three years (fiscal 2022-2025.) Our record of success in Tanzania makes it possible for us to scale up, so we can make our programs available to hundreds more secondary school students.
Planning the visit
Due to the pandemic, it has been four years since PPI has visited Tanzania, though we’re in constant contact virtually and through social media. Phil was compelled to make a visit, saying, “I felt that there are things you can only learn by actually visiting the schools and it is important to have someone observe the program from a different lens.” His goal was to learn about SPARC+ by dealing directly with community members, students, teachers, headmasters, and government officials.
Phil understood some of the challenges in the Tanzanian education system and he had questions. He wondered, for example, why so few students who pass the Form 4 national exam go on to Form 5. (In Tanzania, four years of secondary school, known as Ordinary Level, or Forms 1-4, lead to two years of Advanced Level, or Forms 5-6).
He also wondered how best to ensure that computer labs are used efficiently.
Phil was deeply interested in strengthening ties to our constituents, friends, and officials in the Tanzanian educational community. And, upon return to the U.S., he was eager to report his findings to his Board colleagues, in order to confirm or adapt our strategic direction.
In the Karatu District, Phil visited the Mlimani Sumawe, Endabash, Gykrum Arusha and Domel Secondary Schools. He was impressed by the sense of ownership that everyone with a stake in education – headmasters, teachers, community members, and government officials – felt toward the computer labs. (The local government registers computers as assets for which the schools are held accountable.)
During Phil’s visit, Riaz Abeid, manager of Tanzania’s NGOs (non-governmental organizations) within the Regional Administration and Local Government, asked to observe two of the labs. Upon arrival, Mr. Abeid queried headmasters and teachers about lab usage in daily lessons and he even examined the labs’ furnishings, all in the spirit of ensuring that students get the most from the investment. Phil came away encouraged by the alignment of education with government and he was confident that the oversight and accountability placed on schools will ensure that SPARC+ will deliver an impact beyond what PPI could do alone.
Phil brainstormed with headmasters and teachers about making downloaded software content relevant to each teaching subject, in order to better engage students. They also discussed the concept of teachers mentoring teachers; that is, teachers with more lab experience could advise beginners how best to engage students by leveraging multimedia.
Time and again, Phil saw the impact that SPARC+ — 20 Raspberry Pi computers with a projector, dedicated lab, and teachers and staff trained to use and maintain the equipment – has made in the schools and in the broader community.
Phil’s big takeaway, was, “The students are eager to learn!” In a school with as many as 600 students, they worked in small groups of two or three per computer. He is curious to learn what impact SPARC+ will have on learning outcomes over the next year, which we will be determined through monitoring and evaluation.
Phil observed that the students do not take SPARC+ and its capabilities for granted. They are adapting well to the labs. In a few months’ time, they’ve learned how to access lecture materials and take quizzes on their own. Teachers are grateful for the training and for the benefits SPARC+ provides to students. And in the greater community, imagination has been ignited regarding how computer labs can provide new opportunities to students.
In evaluating his experience, Phil recognized that there are barriers to educational achievement, though he saw definite signs of hope.
Among the challenges are not enough schools and teachers, insufficient infrastructure (e.g., electricity), and food insecurity. In some locales, students walk more than six miles (10 km) each way to attend school. Schools are exploring the possibility of boarding students, so that they can use the labs in the evenings and avoid the dangers inherent in commuting.
The Future Beckons
On the plus side, students are becoming increasingly self-sufficient as they master the labs. And, with limited resources, each school is creative about maximizing learning opportunities.
SPARC+ is helping by removing educational barriers and empowering each student to pursue their chosen path., As Phil concludes, “The goals are ambitious, but, having visited these schools, I could feel the optimism and that the communities see a path forward.”
Powering Potential warmly thanks Phil Brandt for making this enlightening and empowering journey. We also take this opportunity to thank PEF Executive Director Eng.Albin Mathias for all that he does to implement SPARC and SPARC+ in Tanzania.